Senate approves bill guaranteeing backpay for federal employees when the shutdown is over


Roughly 800,000 federal employees will miss a paycheck starting Friday.

With President Donald Trump refusing to budge on his demands for a border wall, the Senate is trying to do what it can to mitigate the impact of the shutdown on federal workers — 800,000 of whom are due to miss their first paycheck starting Friday.

Much like Congress did in previous shutdowns (in January 2018 and October 2013), the Senate on Thursday unanimously approved guaranteed back pay for all federal employees affected by the impasse, including those who are furloughed. If the bill becomes law, it would guarantee that workers receive their back pay as quickly as possible after the president signs appropriations bills, even if that means sending out paychecks that are off cycle.

As an official for the American Federation of Government Employees union recently laid out, it takes at least two to three days for the government to process payroll, so workers would likely receive their back pay after at least that much time elapsed.

While Trump has refused to sign a package of seven appropriations bills, forcing about a quarter of the federal government into a lengthy shutdown over this fight, he’s already agreed to sign this back pay legislation, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Kaine, who was one of more than 20 sponsors for the unanimously passed bill, is optimistic the House will take it up soon, the spokesperson added.

The bill aims to address one of the chief pain points of the shutdown, which has left federal workers scrambling to cover day-to-day costs like rent, utilities, and medication while they wait for their next paycheck to come in. Its benefits, however, won’t be felt for some time since workers won’t receive the back pay until the shutdown has been resolved.

In the interim, Democrats have also proposed other measures to protect workers from the fallout of what will soon be the longest shutdown in US history. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced legislation, according to HuffPost, that would “prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the shutdown and cannot pay rent or repay loans.” And Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) is drafting a bill that would cover back pay for federal contractors as well.

The shutdown is now in its 20th day and there still isn’t a clear end in sight. At the very least, the Senate’s latest action helps ensure that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will get the pay they missed once it’s over.